It's cold outside
One of management’s favorite union-busting lines is that a union would ruin our “direct relationship.” But the reality is that our work rules and policies are only flexible when it benefits management. A recent question from a Flight Attendant about uniforms is a perfect example. Here’s what she wrote:
"I personally think it is BEYOND absurd that we have bases in NYC, BOS, SEA, etc., and are not permitted to wear boots (with dresses) or thick black stockings to work, both of which would keep us significantly more warm in the bitter winters. If we had representation, would we have a say in our uniforms?"
Uniforms are a great example of why the current system doesn’t work for us. It wasn’t so long ago that Delta Flight Attendants were allowed to wear knee high boots and black tights. Winter hasn't changed its bitter cold days, but management unilaterally changed our uniform policy. Without a contract, we had no structure or legal standing to fight that decision, just like we had no structure or legal standing at the company when management forced us into uniforms that made people sick. Management’s change in policy isn’t just uncomfortable in the winter, it’s discriminatory all year long for Black Flight Attendants, who have far more limited options for nude tights.
But how could it be different with a union?
The most important thing to remember is that when we win our election and secure our union, we’re the ones who will pick what we negotiate over.
Once we have a contract that we vote to approve, management cannot change contractual work rules on a whim.
And even outside of contract bargaining, a union structure can give us the power to have a real say in our workplace, as we saw during the merger between Alaska and Virgin America. Virgin America Flight Attendants had long been able to wear boots with their uniforms seasonally, while Alaska Flight Attendants hadn’t prioritized boots in bargaining prior to the merger. Management took the position that the legacy Alaska policy was going to apply to all Flight Attendants - but with our Flight Attendant union there to fight back, management didn't have the final say.
Newly-merged Flight Attendants spoke up, and legacy Alaska Flight Attendants saw an opportunity to fight for a better policy. With input from the work group, elected leaders at the Alaska AFA Master Executive Council (MEC) started conversations with management. Instead of forcing Virgin America Flight Attendants into the Alaska policy, they advocated to expand the Virgin America policy system-wide.
The entire union mobilized to support this effort. AFA’s Uniform Committee and AFA Air Safety, Health, & Security Committee (ASHSC) presented an evidence-based case to management about the comfort and safety benefits of allowing boots. Local Executive Council (LEC) leaders coordinated efforts to engage Flight Attendants in the process and amplify the voices of the work group directly to management.
Together, we won! Management agreed to a system-wide trial period for seasonal boots. The MEC, LECs and AFA continued to advocate for the policy, and thanks to our collective efforts, seasonal boots were permanently added as an option to Alaska’s current uniform program.
The difference couldn’t be more clear. With a union, we’ll have the structure and legal standing to advocate for ourselves—both to protect what we already have, and to expand new options and opportunities based on what we want as Delta Flight Attendants.